!!! - "Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard (A True Story)" (Louden Up Now)
It seems as though irony dogged !!! (think any three repetitive sounds) right from the start. Their self-titled debut emerged at a time when the vitality of another wave of American hardcore waned yet again, prompting some with an over-aggressive case of white guilt to invoke the dreaded "i" word with regards to the prospect of seven or eight pasty pale-skins laying down funk-bottomed dance grooves. But the group, formed in Sacto, California, and transplanted to Brooklyn, never winked once at the audience, instead marching ahead in all seriousness. Far from being yet another in a steadily growing pile of post-punk revival bands, !!! have always existed in the periphery – using their punk roots purely as a means of reinterpreting the tempo, swagger, and libido of modern dance music, marking a direct contrast between their style and the wholesale reproductions favored by more recent post-punk-ateers. But as George Clinton (sort of) said: who says a punk band can't play funk?
Louden Up Now, the group's second long-player, is a bit of a risky proposition then. It quickly becomes apparent !!! are no longer that punk band of long ago. The group has always championed house, jazz, and hip hop as being more central to their sound than any post-industrial clatter, and the 10 tracks make it clear that claim wasn’t just hip service. "Dear Can," for instance, brushes any residual dirt from the shoulders (ahem) in favor of pulsing kick drums and a driving bassline, centering itself around a simple vocal chant and scattershot electronics. "Hello? Is This Thing On?" initially seems as though it could have easily been culled from the same batch of songs that birthed their eponymous debut, but flamenco acoustic guitar complicates the tag. While older material always seemed to give way to rock formalism to an extent, the newer stuff skirts the issue, staying true to disco (punk's great anathema). Check the glorious two-part manifesto of "Shit Scheisse Merde" for proof, which spins stoner dub funk through a George Bush/Tony Blair swipe and back around a Timbaland tech-house beat.
The only real downside to Louden Up Now is the surprising amount of filler surrounding the meaner cuts. An instrumental version of "Shit Scheisse Merde" (more like a dub remix than anything else), a couple of limp segues, and a pointless reprise of "Me and Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard" (same version as last year, better served as a single and not buried at the end of a full-length) detract from what could have easily been a relentless experience. And for all its menace, the single "Pardon My Freedom" grunts its way to little more than a glorified call for Presidential head.
The term "frat boy" is bandied about quite a bit with regards to !!!, not necessarily implying the omnipresent white hats and homoerotic machismo that surrounds cheap kegs at colleges in the sticks, but rather a tireless and sometimes comical devotion to a central party program. The group's dedication to lifting the stigma surrounding indie rock types and dancing has marginalized some who have heard !!!’s music, and in that respect little has changed – lyrically, Louden Up Now provides little rationale for the haters to stop hating. Ambiguous screeds against Dubya and company notwithstanding, Nic Offer's vocal contributions find him at much the same place he was a few years ago, equal parts punk sneer and MC (both mic controller and master of ceremonies). But the vocals have never been central to !!!’s aesthetic. As far as arrangements go, the grit of their debut has been stripped clean in favor of brighter breaks and less jarring electronic flourishes. And while it can come dangerously close to resembling the cold precision of a Martin Hannett production, it's often worth it to hear the leaps and bounds the band has made both in terms of songwriting chops and production gusto.